Impartial referees are just as important in the big election in November as in the big game this Sunday, a lawmaker argued Wednesday during a congressional hearing on private funding for administering elections. 

“The millions of private dollars being funneled to local offices raises serious questions about the conditions placed on their use,” House Administration Chairman Bryan Steil, R-Wis., said. “Imagine this Sunday night at the Super Bowl if the refs were paid for by a tech billionaire from San Francisco.” 

“How do you think Taylor Swift and Kansas City Chief fans would feel about that?” Steil asked. “I don’t think they would be OK with that. This wouldn’t instill confidence in the game.”

Explaining his metaphor, Steil said: “The same goes for our elections administration. Undue private influence distorts Americans’ confidence in our elections. Zuckerbucks distorts confidence in our elections.” 

In 2020, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife gave more than $400 million to the liberal nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life, which distributed grants to local election offices to run their elections. Critics contend the grants were lopsided, intended to turn out the Democrat vote. 

After Zuckerberg announced he no longer would fund election administration, the Center for Tech and Civic Life established a five-year, $80 million project called the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence, a coalition of election groups. 

The groups’ backers included  Big Tech funders  as well as the liberal dark-money group Arabella Advisors. In election circles, “Zuckerbucks” continued to be used as a broad term for private dollars that fund government election offices. 

“The American system of self-governance is under attack,” journalist and author Mollie Hemingway, who has reported on the impact of private grants in the 2020 election, told the House Administration Committee.

“Instead of having election administration that is rigorously nonpartisan and impartial under the law,” Hemingway said, “we have allowed the private takeover of government election offices by partisan oligarchs and their army of activists, who use those offices to tilt the election toward favored candidates.” 

She later added: 

In the last presidential election, nonprofit groups with very strong ties to the Democrat Party and funded by one of the world’s most wealthy and powerful men, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, took over government election offices, most notably in Democrat areas of swing states. Since then, the efforts by partisans to further infiltrate government election offices to ensure favorable outcomes have only increased.

In 2020, 75% of the “Zuckerbucks” grants to election offices in Arizona went to areas that Joe Biden went on to carry, according to the Capital Research Center, an investigative think tank that monitors nonprofits. 

In Pennsylvania, 83% of the Zuckerberg grants went to areas that would be won by Biden. In Michigan, it was 86%. In Wisconsin, it was 90%. In Georgia, it was 94%. And in Nevada, 100% of the Zuckerberg-funded grants went to areas that Biden ended up winning.

The average amount per capita spent in a jurisdiction carried by Donald Trump was 55 cents while the average in jurisdictions carried by Biden was $3.75—about seven times more, according to the Capital Research Center.  

The new effort, the Alliance for Election Excellence, includes organizations that clearly are aligned with and financed by the Left, Scott Walter, president of the Capital Research Center, told the House panel. 

“Two of them, the Center for Secure and Modern Elections and the Institute for Responsive Government, are not even independent nonprofits but are pop-up groups set up by Arabella Advisors’ vast ‘dark money’ network previously mentioned,” Walter said. 

Walter presented a hypothetical, reversed situation that would benefit Republican candidates.  

“Imagine if alumni of a 501(c)(4) run by, say, Republican Karl Rove, were running a (c)(3) charity that had received hundreds of millions from right-leaning billionaire Charles Koch, and they were trying to fund local election offices and convince the offices to implement ‘improvement plans,’” Walter said. “There would not be enough electrons in the cosmos to power the outrage at the websites of The New York Times and CNN, and rightly so.”

Rep. Joseph Morelle, D-N.Y., the committee’s ranking member, said the hearing was the result of Trump’s “temper tantrum” over the loss of the 2020 presidential election. Morelle said opposing private funding for elections is a hypocritical position for Republicans, who recently called for private control of the Federal Aviation Administration and Amtrak.

“The majority’s alleged concern about charitable foundation financing in the realm of election administration is disingenuous at best,” the New York Democrat said. “Of course, we all know the reason my colleagues across the aisle oppose this partnership: because President Trump lost the 2020 presidential election fair and square, and the majority cannot and will not accept that fact. That’s the reason we’re here.”

The Center for Tech and Civic Life didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Signal for this report. 

The House Administration Committee previously advanced an omnibus election reform bill, the American Confidence in Elections Act, which includes a proposal by Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., to ban private funding of election administration. Tenney co-chairs the House Election Integrity Caucus. 

So far, 27 states have banned the use of private dollars to operate election offices. Still, the nonprofit Alliance for Election Excellence will continue funding election administration, Steil said. That effort includes the states of Nevada, Michigan, and Wisconsin. 

“What do those three states have in common? I’ll give you a hint. They are presidential swing states that haven’t banned Zuckerbucks,” Steil said. “Why don’t you see a state like Pennsylvania? Their Democratic governor signed a ban on Zuckerbucks. So, even some Democrats realize that this is a problem.” 

“In Congress, I have a solution on how to prevent undue private influence in elections administration,” the Wisconsin Republican added. It’s why this committee passed the Americans Confidence in Elections Act.”

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